By Marissa Acey, MA, 2018
The semester is over! Finals are finished! We can all finally take a breath of relief. What a whirlwind, right? I know I am definitely looking forward to some relaxing nights cuddled up by the fire with a good book. Whether you’re heading home to visit family, staying in the city for a Florentine holiday, or you’re taking the opportunity to travel, there is a book out there for you!
Here are some suggestions for a Winter break companion that will remind you of your Fall semester in Italy. Check ‘em out and escape into another world (when you aren’t taking advantage of sleeping in)!
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino was, and still is, one of the most celebrated Italian writers of the 20th century. His post-modern, magical realism books give you just the right amount of fantasy and wackiness to pull you out of your reality. Invisible Cities is one of his most popular books and it is a great companion for all you world travelers out there! In this beautifully written novel, Marco Polo recounts to Kublai Khan the fantastic urban landscapes that he comes across on his travels. Fragmentary and poetic, you’ll wonder if these are real places he describes or figments of his imagination. Either way, it is a wonderfully wild ride and will make you look at your many journeys in a brand new light.
The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland
For all you art lovers out there, look no further than Susan Vreeland’s The Passion of Artemisia. In this fictionalized account of the celebrated Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi travels throughout Italy from Rome to Florence to Naples, creating her famous masterpieces along the way. Taken from real events, and even closely following the accurate trial transcript of her infamous rape in the early 17th century, you’ll feel closer than ever to one of the most celebrated woman painters of all time. Even if you don’t pick up this novel, check out her masterpiece, ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ in the Uffizi gallery before your flight home!
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
I have to admit – I haven’t read this book yet! But of course, like many of you, I have seen the iconic movie starring the great Diane Lane. The rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside in the warm glow of summer will make you forget how cold it is outside. If you have been hiding under a rock somewhere and have never heard of the book or movie, pick this book up if you are interested in villa restoration, good cooking, and, of course, whirlwind romance.
How to Be Both by Ali Smith
Uh, I love this book. I recommend it to almost everyone I talk to, so forgive me if I’ve already gushed about Ali Smith and her wonderful dual-narrative novel that takes place in both modern-day America and Renaissance-era Ferrara. It is a beautiful exploration into how art affects us in different ways and the complications of the human spirit. It has love, it has loss, and the prose pulls you in and keeps you coming back for more, even if it is way past your bedtime. Also, here’s my favorite part:
“Who says stories reach everybody in the same order? This novel can be read in two ways and this book provides you with both. In half of all printed editions of the novel the narrative EYES comes before CAMERA. In the other half of printed editions the narrative CAMERA precedes EYES. The narratives are exactly the same in both versions, just in a different order.” – Goodreads
How cool is that?! I’m currently rereading it in the opposite order that I first read it to have a whole new experience of the novel. It is still just as good. Please, do yourself a favor and read it now.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Here is another favorite, a book that I devoured during the most busy part of this past semester even though I had so much to do – I couldn’t put it down! Umberto Eco is another celebrated Italian writer and this is his first, and most well-known, novel. Now, stay with me here – a 14th century monastic murder mystery set in Northern Italy that wonderfully explores the medieval Inquisition era with intrigue and close historical accuracy. If I didn’t lose you at the premise, let me throw in a Sherlock Holmes-like monk, baffling murders, and a mysterious labyrinthine library. Still not sold? There’s a movie version starring Sean Connery, though I have to say as most people do, the book is way better than the movie.
Inferno by Dan Brown
I couldn’t write a list of Italy-themed books without Dan Brown! Okay, so this is another one that I haven’t read myself, but I did enjoy ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and this follows the same protagonist and structure with an added bonus – it’s set in Florence this time around. Follow Robert Langdon on a wild ride through the city you’ve been calling home for the past few months and see if you can solve the mystery before he does.
I hope these suggestions will keep you company this holiday season, or at least give you some ideas for other books you’d love to pick up! I know I’ll be enjoying my Peggy Guggenheim biography and will try and finally tackle the audiobook of George Saunders’ ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize.
P.S. Don’t forget to visit your local bookstore! I’m a big fan of Paperback Exchange here in the city, where you can even sell back your books for credit.
Happy holidays and happy reading!